Motion made, and Question proposed,
That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a New Writ for the Election of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough of Stroud, in the room of Henry Robert Brand, esquire, whose Election has been determined to be void."—(Mr. Adam.)
§ MR. CHARLES LEWIS
, on rising to move an Amendment, expressed a hope that if any hon. Member thought a renewal of the discussion of the important question involved in this Motion was rather hard upon the House, and somewhat unauthorized on his part, this feeling would soon be dissipated. Before the previous debate he had unavoidably had little opportunity of becoming acquainted with the precedents which bore upon the subject. He acknowledged, indeed, that he had been quite unprepared to find the question taken up on 272 the constitutional grounds on which it was debated. Since then he had had an opportunity of fortifying himself with precedents which he hoped would be regarded as decisive. He had, however, to point out that the Motion which he now put to the House was a totally different one from that which he presented on the former occasion. He now asked the House to consider whether it ought not, at all events, to pause till it had read the evidence taken at the trial of the recent Election Petition before authorizing the issue of a new writ. He had to ask the indulgence of the House while he referred to a matter personal to himself. It would be in the recollection of the House that after he had replied on the debate the other night, the right hon Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) took what was a perfectly lawful, but, at the same time, a very unusual course in alluding to the precedents which he (Mr. Lewis) had made in his speech, and stated to the House that, on his investigation of the Stafford case, he found that it told against his (Mr. Lewis's) argument rather than in favour. That right hon. Gentleman alluded to the three Bills of Disfranchisement which were presented to the House of Lords, and stated that directly the Disfranchisement Bill in regard to Stafford was thrown out, the writ was issued. The right hon. Gentleman was reported—he believed correctly—to have used these words in the previous debateIn 1836 it (the Disfranchisement Bill) was introduced for the third time, and carried by the consent of almost the whole House, but it was rejected by the House of Lords; and as soon as it had been rejected, a writ was moved for. So that the precedent, instead of supporting the hon. and learned Member, told the other way.Now, the facts were these—The Disfranchisement Bill in the case of Stafford was thrown out by the House of Lords on the 29th of July, 1836. The House of Commons then took the usual course of having the Journals of the House of Lords searched, and the matter was entered on the Journals of that House on the 11th of August. It was true that on the 11th of August the writ was moved for; but instead of its being granted, the fact was, that it was suspended by the House of Commons. Now, nothing more unfortunate to him and to the cause he was endeavouring to advocate 273 could have occurred than that incorrect statement of the right hon. Gentleman made just before the division the other evening, and he believed it had an important influence on the votes of many hon. Members. So strong was the opinion of the House, that although the Disfranchisement Bill had been thrown out, it had a discretion to suspend the writ, that a Motion was carried by 45 to 6 in favour of suspending the writ until 10 days after the commencement of the next Session; and then, on the writ being moved for, it was carried by the narrow majority of 1—or by 152 to 151. Voting in that minority of 151 they had some men of great distinction in that House—among others Sir George Grey, Lord Ebury, Mr. Bernal, Sir Francis Baring, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Liskeard (Mr. Horsman), the late Lord Taunton, the present Duke of Somerset, and Sir Harry Verney. Having been told the other night by the Prime Minister and the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) that he was asking the House to take a most unconstitutional course, and one interfering with the liberties of the people, he referred to the Stafford case as justifying him, not only in the Motion he made the other evening, but in now asking the House so far to reconsider the question as to stay its hand until the evidence taken at Stroud had been printed. It had been urged, and it would probably be repeated, that when the Election Petitions Acts passed, that House gave over the staff of authority to the Election Judge. He hoped that argument would be recollected when they had the Continuance Bill presented to them in the course of that Session. Knowing what was the temper of the House, he doubted whether, when it passed the Election Petitions Act of 1868, it intended to surrender one of its long-established and most cherished privileges into the hands of one man, however eminent, from whose decision there was no appeal, who was as amenable to bias as any of his fellow-creatures, who was liable to make mistakes, and who had none of the infallibility which was imputed to, but never claimed by, the noble Lord who sat near him (Lord Robert Montagu). According to the argument used the other night, they had only to ask Mr. Speaker for what day he would fix the 274 election, and although a Motion was made in that House for the issue of the writ, they would be doing an unconstitutional thing if they voted against it. Had they not really the same privilege now as they had before, or was the thing a mere empty formality, like the congé d'élire in the case of the election of a Bishop? They had to go back, not to the Election Petitions Act of 1868, but to the Corrupt Practices Act of 1852, in order to test that question. The Corrupt Practices Act of 1852 was the Act under which Commissions of Inquiry into electoral corruption were initiated. It was then enacted that upon the Report of an Election Committee that corrupt practices had prevailed, or that there was reason to believe they had prevailed, then, on an Address to the Crown from both Houses of Parliament, a Commission would issue. The only alteration made by the Act of 1868, was to substitute an Election Judge for an Election Committee. There was no other difference whatever. There was nothing in the Act, or in the form of the Act, in any way infringing on that discretion of the House of Commons which had been exercised over and over again both before and since the passing of the Act of 1852. But it was said that because in extreme cases of corruption, there was to be a proceeding taken previous to disfranchisement, in cases of less aggravated corruption the House had no discretion to suspend the writ for a day or for a Session of Parliament. It was of the most vital importance in the consideration of this question, to bear in mind that Government itself had in analogous circumstances taken the very course which he now recommended. In 1859, there was a Petition against the two Members for Gloucester. The two Members were unseated, a Commission of Inquiry was issued, and the Report was laid on the Table of the House on the 24th of January, 1860. He entreated the attention of the House to this fact, that not by the action of any private Member, but by the interference of the Government of the day—the Government of Lord Palmerston—after that Report was presented, there not being a sufficient case for disfranchisement, and no proposal of disfranchisement, the House suspended the writ for two whole years. He would refer to the volume of Hansard for the year 275 1861, in which the late Mr. Thomas Duncombe—who always contended that, however much bribery might be proved against a constituency, they had a right to a writ instanter, unless disfranchisement was proposed—was reported to have asked the then Home Secretary (Sir George Lewis)—Whether the Government intended to bring in a Bill in regard to Gloucester and Wakefield."—[3 Hansard, clxiii. 1070.]Sir George Lewis replied that—It was not the intention of the Government to bring in any measure with respect to those boroughs; that the course they had taken had been taken deliberately; and that, as far as the Government were concerned, they intended to withhold the issue of the writ during the present Parliament."—[Ibid.]That, he admitted, was not after the passing of the Election Petitions Act of 1868; but he. challenged any legal Member of the House to say whether the effect of the Act of 1868 had been greater or higher than this—that for the old Election Committee of five Members was substituted an Election Judge, who had all their powers, statutory and otherwise. He now came to another branch of the argument. Supposing there had been any alteration made by the conjoint effect of the Act of 1852 and the Act of 1868, was it to be solemnly maintained that, when on the face of the Report of a Judge, the trial of an Election Petition had not been complete, but had been interrupted by the withdrawal of the person petitioned against, and the hand of the Election Judge appointed by statute had been paralyzed by the abstention of the parties, therefore the House was precluded from proceeding any further in the matter, unless it was proposed to disfranchise the borough? He was in a position to show that in neither of the Petitions was the Election Judge able to make a complete inquiry. He found it stated by Baron Bramwell, in reference to the first Petition, that there was evidence of many persons having been guilty of corrupt practices at the election, but that the respondents gave up their defence, saying that they saw that the determination must go against them, and therefore certain evidence that might have been produced was not in fact produced. With respect to the second Petition, Baron Bramwell also reported that there was evidence of bribery against other persons, but that, 276 as the respondent, Mr. Dorrington, had withdrawn from the defence of the seat, he did not think he ought to report that bribery had been proved against them. In the case of the third Petition, the Judge also reported that, as the claim for the seat had been struck out of the Petition, the evidence of corrupt practices was necessarily confined to such acts as could be proved against the respondent's party; in other words, that the petitioner had found it desirable not to press his claim to the seat, lest retaliatory evidence should be brought forward. On the face of those Reports, therefore, it appeared that not one of the three inquiries was complete, be cause of the action of persons who feared to allow the investigation to proceed. Under those circumstances he would, he thought, be committing an outrage on the common sense of the House if he endeavoured to press the point any further on its attention, or to lay further stress on the arguments which, in his opinion, should induce it to vote against the issue of the writ. It had, indeed, on a former night, been said that if the House intended to take any further steps against the borough of Stroud, that might be a good reason for withholding the writ; but that otherwise, no sufficient reason existed. Now, he would, he thought, be able to show that the House possessed, in the present instance, the power, under statute, to take further steps; and if ever there was a case in which the House ought to be careful to do nothing which would load people out-of-doors to suppose that the extension of the franchise had rendered it less careful with respect to maintaining purity of election, it was that, he contended, which it was now engaged in discussing, in which, in consequence of corrupt persons having been permitted to go throughout the length and. breadth of the constituency, a borough which had once been pure, and which had returned eminent persons to Parliament, had been polluted, degraded, and defiled. Unless, therefore, the House wished to impress every constituency in the Kingdom that its desire to put down bribery had been destroyed by recent events, he most earnestly implored of it to take time to deliberate on the question as to the exercise of the power which it undoubtedly possessed under the statute of 1852. By the Corrupt 277 Practices Act of that year, which enacted that on the joint Address of both Houses, a Committee of the House of Commons might be appointed to try an Election Petition, or to inquire into the existence of corrupt practices at any election or elections, reference was made to two tribunals—the ordinary Election Committee, or a special Committee of the House appointed to inquire into those practices. Now, it would be found that under the Election Petitions Act the Judge was substituted for only one of those tribunals, and that the other had not been destroyed. The 15th section provided that, where the Judge reported that he had reason to believe that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed in any county or borough, such Report should have the same effect and be dealt with in the same manner as if the Re port had been that of a Committee of the House of Commons appointed to inquire into an Election Petition. It was therefore clear that the special Committee which might even now be appointed to inquire into the existence of corrupt practices at elections, and to which he had referred, was left undealt with and undestroyed, although it was no part of his case to show whether the House ought or ought not to appoint such a special Committee in the present instance. He would, however, beg of the House to abstain from issuing the writ, in order that it might have an opportunity of carefully considering the evidence which had been given before Baron Pigott, and then it would be for the House, under the advice of its recognized Leaders, to say whether there was sufficient evidence in the course of one of the longest trials under the Act to justify its further action. He would now, with the permission of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt), ask the House to let him read another letter. It might, of course, be objected to such a course, as it had been on a previous night, that it was below the dignity of the House to listen to what was termed "street gossip," or to paragraphs in newspapers which were anonymous. But he had got great historic authority in favour of anonymous communications, both in and out of the House. At all events, he would go a little further than the hon. and learned Gentleman. The writer was a clergyman, and that destroyed, at all events, 278 a little of his anonymous character. The communication was rather odd, but its very oddness of expression was perhaps in favour of its truthfulness. The writer said that the injury which had been done to trade in Stroud because of the recent election contests was fearful, inasmuch as the money had been spent on Petitions which would otherwise have gone into the pockets of the tradesmen, and that delay in the payment of their bills was frequently sought to be justified on account of the subscriptions for the purpose of Election Petitions which had to be paid, while party spirit had in many instances caused tradesmen to be deserted by their customers. Now, that was a state of things which it was only natural to expect. Then it was asserted from the front Opposition Benches that the House of Commons had no special right to deal with a case relating to the representation of the people in Parliament. The House was told the other night that for the House of Commons to act without the co-operation of the other House and the Crown would be an infringement of the liberty of the subject, and they were appealed to not to allow such a monstrosity. He (Mr. Lewis) confessed that when he heard the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Oxford the other night he was reminded of something he said out of the House not very long ago in one of those touching monologues with which he entertained his constituents when celebrating so joyfully the defeat and disaster of the party to which he belonged, and in which he claimed with his own hand and pen to have written a new page and chapter of fulfilled prophecy with regard to the disaster which had befallen his own friends. The hon. and learned Gentleman on that occasion made use of some remarkable expressions. He said that the Liberal party had suffered from too much physic—too many potions and too many pills. He went on to say that if they were again to be restored to good health they must have administered to them a few grains of the salt of common sense. He could not help thinking that one of the conditions of the success of that advice was, in the hon. and learned Gentleman's opinion, that he should himself be the head physician. But, as he now found himself not to be in that position, perhaps he would condescend to administer a few 279 grains of common sense to the House of Commons instead of to his party. For his own part, he asked the House to decide the question on the grounds of common sense. It had the right and privilege to say that the writ should not be issued, for it was absurd to contend that it was to be bound hand and foot by the Reports of Election Judges. He did not believe that was a position, when it gave up its privilege of trying Election Petitions to the Judges, the House of Commons ever meant to occupy; and, as the Amendment which he had risen to move was a temperate and a moderate one, he trusted the House would not, by refusing to agree to it, rejoice the hearts of men who lived by bribery and corruption, and perpetuate the misery of many households in Stroud which required peace. He hoped the House by its verdict would prove that it was not careless about one of its highest and most cherished privileges, and one of its most solemn duties—the protection of the purity of our system of Parliamentary representation. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving, as an Amendment to the Motion—That no new Writ be issued for the Election of a Member of Parliament for the Borough of Stroud until three days after the printing and distribution among the Members of this House of the evidence taken upon the trial of the Petition against the return of the late Member which took place before Baron Pigott.
§ MR. E. YORKE
, in seconding the Amendment, observed, that the case of Stroud was so peculiar, that he was sure the House would re-consider the opinion it formed the other night, which was, that it should not be treated on its merits, but should be judged solely in the light of precedents. He would not attempt to go into the question of precedents. That he would leave to the legal Gentlemen on either side of the blouse, who were so well qualified to deal with it. But he would remark that if precedents were always to be followed in these matters, the range of the discretion of the House would be seriously curtailed. The duty of the Judge who tried an Election Petition was first to inquire into the character of the candidate, in the next case into that of individual electors; and, thirdly, into that of the constituency as a whole. In the present instance, the Judge had reported against 280 individual electors, but he had pronounced in the candidate's favour, and had acquitted the constituency generally. Now the House of Commons had indisputably the power of issuing a Commission of Inquiry when corrupt practices were reported to prevail, and he maintained that it had also the power of suspending a writ, otherwise, as the hon. and learned Gentleman who had preceded him remarked, why was it asked that evening to say "Aye" or "No" on the question? Although it was included in the range of the Judge's duty to try the question of the general purity of a constituency, it was the interest of all parties concerned to contract the scope and minimize the amount of matter submitted to his decision. In most cases, if the Judge had the materials at all for judging of the general purity of the constituency he got them only indirectly. No sooner had the petitioner proved his case, were it only as much as direct bribery to the amount of 2s. 6d., than the defendant's counsel threw up his brief, and the whole matter, by common consent, came to an end. It was unnecessary to refer to the Reports of the Judges in the three Election Petitions at Stroud to prove that this was the case with regard to that constituency. And the case of a constituency or of individuals who had yielded to a first temptation, was very different from that of a constituency or individuals who were found again and again resorting to vicious courses. Only the other day there came before one of the Metropolitan magistrates a "young lady" who had taken something from a shop and sold it, and she was let off to come up for judgment again when called upon. Now, if she had been an habitual thief—and Stroud had, unfortunately, proved itself to be an habitually corrupt borough—the sentence would no doubt have been a severe one. Unfortunately, it seemed that the House of Commons was not very vigilant in exercising its functions, even when corrupt practices were reported to prevail in a constituency. Against the borough of Boston corrupt practices were reported in June last year, and up to the present time no action had been taken on the Report, either by the Government or any other party in the House of Commons. It thus appeared that when corrupt practices were reported, it was by no means the rule that a Commission of In- 281 quiry should at once be issued. As to the ease of Stroud, he would venture to predict that if the writ was suspended, even for a comparatively short time, it would be accepted by the inhabitants of the borough as a warning that they bad nearly reached the limits of the patience of the House of Commons. He believed that the suspension of the writ, if only for a short time, would do the constituency a greater service by allowing their better feelings to re-assert themselves, than any other action that the House could possibly take. It was to be recollected that the last Reform Bill, excellent though it was in many respects, introduced a very large number of persons into constituencies such as that of Stroud, who were peculiarly amenable to temptation of the kind attending elections. Anyone who knew anything of Stroud during the past year, must be aware that for weeks together, it became the practice for men to walk about, sticking up handbills and protecting them against the other party, for wages perhaps double what they would have earned by honest labour. He had thought it right to again address the House on this subject, in the hope that at the eleventh hour it would give Stroud one more chance of redeeming its character, and he believed the strength of the case which had been brought forward by the hon. and learned Gentleman who had preceded him was sufficient to entitle him to meet with success.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "no new Writ he issued for the Election of a Member of Parliament for the Borough of Stroud until three days after the printing and distribution among the Members of this House of the evidence taken upon the trial of the Petition against the return of the late Member which took place before Mr. Baron Pigott,"—(Mr. Charles Lewis,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. CHILDERS
would only remark with regard to the Amendment that while the hon. and learned Member who introduced it (Mr. Lewis) was quite prepared last Tuesday to disfranchise Stroud without reading the evidence, his proposal, now that he had been beaten, was that the writ should not be issued 282 until the House had gone through that process. The hon. Member who seconded him had endeavoured to illustrate the different degrees of criminality in corrupt boroughs by the case of a young lady against whom there was a certain charge, but whose pleasing appearance and respectable connections had induced the magistrate to let her go back to her friends. He hardly thought the inhabitants of Stroud would feel flattered by the contrast which the hon. and learned Member had attempted to draw, involving as it did the suggestion that their appearance was unpleasing and their connections disreputable. With regard to Stafford, if he had not correctly stated the facts of the case on the previous occasion he would now have apologized to the House; but he thought that when they had heard what he had to say they would find that the case of Stafford as against the proposal for suspending the writ was much stronger than he had put it. What happened on Tuesday was this. It was proved by the Solicitor General that the precedents were entirely against the course proposed to be taken by the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry, who, nevertheless, in his reply, referred a second time to the case of Stafford, as if the arguments which had been used in reference to that case were in his favour. At the end of the debate he (Mr. Childers) stated off-hand the facts in reference to Stafford, and on the present occasion the hon. and learned Member implied that he misinformed the House in one respect, by leaving it to be inferred that, the Disfranchising Bills having failed, the writ was then and there immediately issued. What he stated was that, the last of the Disfranchising Bills having failed, the writ was issued; and it did not occur to him to have to explain more minutely that the last Bill having been thrown out at the very end of one Session, the writ of election issued a few days after the commencement of the succeeding Session. The facts in relation to Stafford, stated more fully, were these. At the election in 1833, a prodigious amount of bribery was committed, and two Petitions were presented, but both fell through, so that the two Members continued to sit. Thereupon a Bill was passed to indemnify witnesses who might come forward and give evidence before a Committee which should inquire gene- 283 rally into the corruption of Stafford. That Committee was appointed in 1833, and at the close of its sittings reported that open, general, and systematic bribery having been proved, Stafford should, in the opinion of the Committee, cease to return Members to Parliament. The Chairman of the Committee, Sir Thomas Fremantle (now Lord Cottesloe), was instructed to bring in a Bill to disfranchise the borough. He acted upon that instruction; but the Session had, at the date of the introduction of the measure, advanced so far that the measure was not further proceeded with. The measure was re-introduced on the 11th of February in the following year and passed by the House; but on its being carried to the House of Lords their Lordships proceeded no further with it. The same fate befel a similar Bill introduced in 1835. It passed the Commons, but made no progress in the House of Lords. In 1836 it was brought in for the fourth time, and carried in the House of Commons by 53 votes to 6. It was then sent to the Lords, who for a month took no steps in reference to it. At the end of that time their Lordships appointed a Committee of Inquiry, who at the end of other two months proceeded to take evidence, and, finally, on the 29th of July, their Lordships rejected the Bill. A Motion was then carried in this House that the issue of the writ for a vacancy which had mean-while occurred be suspended for a week to await the decision of Parliament upon a second Bill, the object of which was to disfranchise the burgesses of Stafford as distinguished from the householders and freemen—it having been proved that of the 850 burgesses no less than 700 had been bribed. That Bill was introduced in the House of Lords, and on the 4th of August was also rejected. It was then ordered that the writ should not issue until 10 days after the commencement of the following Session, the object of this being that those who had brought in the previous Bills might have an opportunity of considering and deciding whether or not they would bring in any further Bill in the following Session. On the 13th of February in the following year the question of issuing the writ was raised, and Sir Thomas Fremantle said—The real subject matter for their deliberation was, whether if a Bill were brought for- 284 ward for the disfranchisement of Stafford, there was a reasonable prospect of carrying the Bill. If his hon. Friend the Member for Exeter "—who had moved in the matter—" was prepared to say that he was ready to bring in a Bill for the purpose, and that there was a reasonable prospect of carrying it, he (Sir Thomas Ire-mantle) would vote for suspending the writ until the end of this Parliament; but on the grounds on which his hon. Friend had placed the Amendment, he could not in justice to his own feelings, and in accordance with his sense of duty, vote for it. … The continued suspension of the writ would be inconsistent with the principles of the Constitution."—[3 Hansard, xxxvi. 450–1.]This was precisely what was said on Tuesday night in opposition to the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry. When it became clear that no further Disfranchising Bill was to be introduced the writ was issued. Therefore, it seemed clear that the precedent of Stafford, which was so strongly relied on by the hon. and learned Member, was opposed to the proceeding which he asked the House to take.
MR. STAVELEY HILL
said, that as the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) had challenged the House to draw a distinction between the state of things now existing and that prior to 1868, he would draw attention to a most important one created by the Act of 1868. He was one of those who last year thought it was desirable that the writ should be suspended with a view to other proceedings; but the House, after considering the Report of the learned Judge who tried the last Petition, did not come to that conclusion. The Act of 1852 provided that when the Committee reported that corrupt practices prevailed a Commission should issue, and the issue of the writ was suspended; the Judge under the Act of 1868 was put in the place of the Committee. The whole power of the Committee of the House of Commons had been handed over to the Election Judges; whether it had been beneficial or not he would not then stop to inquire: but the 13th section of the Act of 1868 provided that the House, when informed of the certificate of the learned Judge, should order the same to be entered on their Journals, and give the necessary directions for confirming or altering the return, or issuing a writ for a new election, or for carrying the decision into execution, as circumstances might require. The House was now completely 285 bound hand and foot to the decision of the Judges to whom had been handed over these matters. In the present ease the learned Judge had reported that there was no reason to believe that corrupt practices extensively prevailed in the borough of Stroud at the last election, and therefore he held that the House had no right to withhold the issue of the writ.
§ MR. FORSYTH
said, that although he felt strongly inclined to support the Amendment, there were reasons why he could not do so. To adopt in that House a practice of reviewing and possibly reversing the decisions of Judges appointed to try election petitions would only have the effect of utterly destroying the authority of the tribunals created by Act of Parliament. If any such practice was to be adopted, then it would be better at once to repeal the Act under which the Judges were appointed. Let it be assumed for a moment that the House was satisfied the Judge was wrong, and ought to have decided that there was extensive corruption; he (Mr. Forsyth) said the House had no power, under the Act of Parliament, to issue any Commission at all. The Act of 1868 provided that if the Judge reported that he believed corrupt practices had extensively prevailed, that Report should have the same effect and might be dealt with in the same manner as a Report of a Committee of the House of Commons under the Act of 1852. Therefore, the Report of the Judge was to have the same effect, and no more, than a Report of a Committee under the Act of 1852. The first section of that Act enacted that when a Committee appointed to try an Election Petition reported that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed, and the Houses of Parliament presented a joint Address to the Crown for the issue of a Commission of Inquiry, then, and then only, a Commission should issue. Suppose the House came to the conclusion that extensive corruption prevailed in the borough of Stroud, the House was powerless, except to suspend the writ. It could not by law issue a Commission. No doubt it could suspend the writ. He would not go into the argument, which was fully exhausted the other night, as to the power of the House to suspend the writ; but he would say this—that the argument satisfied him there was no prece- 286 dent of the House having suspended a writ unless some definite action was to be taken after the suspension had beer voted by the House. The only other possible ground that could be urged for the suspension of a writ was that there was political and social excitement in the constituency. He did not believe his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) would be able to point to a single precedent where the House of Commons, because there was excitement in a constituency, suspended a writ. For these reasons, he should, although with reluctance, vote against the Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend.
said, he thought it would be simply ridiculous to waste time on a Motion to do that which the House of Commons had no power to do. But though they could not issue a Commission they had clearly the power to suspend this writ. They were told that a certain right hon. Gentleman was to appear at Stroud who would be agreeable to all parties; but he (Mr. Mills) doubted the likelihood of that now that that right hon. Gentleman's address had been published. It was a very long document, but might be compressed into one line of 10 words, and the moral of it was—"Politics not so much an object as a quiet seat." He (Mr. Mills) believed there were honest Liberals and honest Conservatives in Stroud, and he gave them credit for wanting to fight out their battle. As he thought the longer that battle was delayed the better, he should vote for the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) had reminded him that he pronounced an eulogium on common sense which seemed to have attracted the hon. and learned Member's attention. It was quite true that he estimated common sense very highly, and it had taught him several things. It had taught him, in the first place, that the House of Commons had better be guided by the decisions of Her Majesty's Judges, to whom they had referred these questions, rather than by the opinions of anonymous writers, even though they happened to be present. It had taught him, in the second place, that these debates gained nothing by bandying personalities. It had taught him that when 287 they were discussing a serious question, it was better to address themselves to those things which had to do with the question rather than those which had not. In the case of Stafford, to which his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) had referred, the writ was suspended over and over again in the hope that the House of Lords would pass a Disfranchising Bill. As soon as that hope was dispelled, the House of Commons felt it was not at liberty to suspend the writ. The House of Commons could say to the House of Lords—"You have three times refused to pass a Disfranchising Bill, therefore we take the matter into our own hands and issue the writ." The hon. and learned Member, who was very unfortunate in his precedents, was equally in-accurate in his statement of the case of Wakefield. Now, the case of Wakefield was a peculiar one. There had been a Committee, which had reported extensive corruption. There had been a Commission, founded upon the Report of the Committee, and the writ for Wakefield was suspended from time to time for various reasons; but during the whole of that period legislation was either, in fact, going on or contemplated, which affected the issue of that writ. The first legislation which was contemplated was in the year 1860. A Motion was made for leave to bring in a Billto make provision that, at the Election of Members to serve in Parliament for the City of Gloucester and Borough of Wakefield, the Electors thereof give their votes by way of Ballot,and that Motion was negatived. After that there were various other grounds of legislation alleged for suspending the Wakefield writ. Sir George Lewis, when he moved, in February, 1861, that the writ should not issue without seven days' notice, said—It was the intention of the Government to introduce a measure founded upon the Report of the Committee of last Session on the Corrupt Practices Act … and the House would decide whether the measure should he retrospective.—[3 Hansard, clxi. 247.]That measure provided that in cases where a Commission had reported that a constituency was corrupt the writ should be suspended for five years. That was a legislative Act to give the very power which the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry called upon them to give that evening. Sir George 288 Lewis said that, though the Government had not introduced a Bill with a retrospective operation with respect to Gloucester and Wakefield, it would be competent for the House to make such alterations in the Bill as would give it a retrospective operation; and this was what the hon. and learned Member said was suspending the writ without the concurrence of the Legislature. On the 28th of June, 1861, Sir George Lewis said it would be competent for the House to suspend the writs for boroughs in the same position as Gloucester and Wakefield for five years, and to include those boroughs in the Bill. That Bill did not pass. In February, 1862, anew writ for Wakefield passed without opposition. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Londonderry said his Motion was different from that which he made the other night. It was really very different, and, if possible, more irregular. If they wished for the evidence, he (Sir William Harcourt) wanted to know what they were to do with it when they got it. If the hon. and learned Member wished the House to discuss that evidence, and to come to a decision the opposite of that of the Judge, he wished the House to exercise a privilege which gentlemen at the Bar did not think themselves entitled to exercise with reference to the decisions of Judges. Was the House to say that witnesses whom the Judge had seen and whom the House had not seen were credible witnesses, although the Judge said they were not; or, on the other hand, was the House to say that witnesses whom the Judge had seen and whom the House had not seen ought not to have credit given to them, although the Judge believed that they were credible? He would yield to no man in his high estimation of the House of Commons, of which they were all so proud. He believed it to be the best legislative Assembly in the world, but he believed it to be the worst judicial body you could form. The House had been of that opinion itself. He felt the scandal of these discussions and the votes to which they gave rise as long ago as the last century, when the Granville Act was passed for referring Election Petitions to the Committees of the House. The hon. and learned Member for Londonderry wanted to bring back the House to such a state of things as existed in the days of Sir 289 Robert Walpole. The House not being satisfied with the trial of Election Petitions by Committees had transferred the subject to the Judges. The hon. and learned Member was dissatisfied with the Judges and with the Election Petitions Act; but he (Sir William Harcourt) ventured to point out to him that, if he was dissatisfied with the Judges, the constitutional course for him to adopt would be to repeal the statute by the assent of the Legislature, and not to evade and set it aside by a Resolution of the House of Commons. Why were Money Bills sent up to the House of Lords and passed through Committee although that House had no right to alter them? The very meaning of the word "unconstitutional" was doing a thing which you might do, but which you ought not to do, if you acted in conformity with the spirit of your institutions; and it had been determined to be a part of the Constitution of this country that when a statute had been passed it could not be got rid of, except by repealing it; yet the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry asked the House of Commons to determine that one Chamber could overrule a legislative Act. What did the hon. and learned Member propose to do when the evidence had been laid before the House? The hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) spoke of lawyers the other day in a not very respectful manner, and a sentiment of that kind was always sure to evoke much popular applause; but the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry now wanted to convert the House of Commons into a Court of Nisi Prius, where all the lawyers were to pull the evidence to pieces and to address the jury upon it, although he was afraid the House would not have the benefit of the summing up of the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair. The House would, in fact, be a jury summoned by the division bell and marshalled by the "Whip." That was the manner in which the hon. and learned Member appeared to think that the dignity and character of that House was to be maintained before the country. As his hon. Friend the Member for Marylebone (Mr. Forsyth) had justly remarked—"If you can go behind the Judge for one purpose, you can go behind him for all purposes." When the Judge had unseated a Member, the House of Commons might move for the evi- 290 dence and re-seat him. When the Judge had declared people to be guilty of bribery, the House might move for the evidence and declare them to be not guilty. If the House could disregard the Judge's finding with respect to a constituency, it might disregard it also with reference to the voters. Therefore the litigious spirit which, as everybody so much regretted, had crept into the borough of Stroud was, under the auspices of the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry, to be introduced into the House of Commons. The hon. and learned Member for Londonderry said a case under the Election Petitions Act was just like a case under the Act of 1852, when Commissions were first authorized to be issued. But the fact was that, as soon as the Act of 1852 was passed, a warning was addressed to Parliament by one who was no longer alive, but whose opinion on such subjects would be listened to with respect in that House, and even by Members who sat on the Conservative benches. In the Canterbury case, Lord Lyndhurst said—It had been their object—a Constitutional and Parliamentary object—to prevent, as far as possible, the House of Commons and this House from exercising any judgment in the case of elections. And why? Because such questions were in general decided upon party motives and as party questions. That was the ground upon which the Grenville Act was passed, and here they were laying down precedents which might be very mischievous, giving the House of Commons the power of saying that, as the Committee had not found that which was necessary to support the issuing of the Commission, they would put a construction upon the Report of the Committee which would bring it within the meaning of the Act of Parliament. He warned their Lordships against the consequence of that proceeding. His experience of Courts of Justice led him to this conclusion.…. The noble Earl had said that their Lordships ought not to look to the evidence taken before the Committee to supply its defect. Undoubtedly their Lord-ships had nothing to do with the evidence for this purpose. Nothing could be more clear than that; though the evidence should show corruption to the greatest extent, they could not supply the defect in the Report. It was the Committee that ought to have drawn the conclusion. They ought to have reported in the words of the Act of Parliament; but, as they had not done so, their Lordships could not, by construction, supply the deficiency."—[3 Hansard, Cxxv. 906.]That related to the Canterbury case, which occurred in the first year after the Act of 1852 was passed. In the Clitheroe case, where the House of Commons addressed the Crown for a Commission, the 291 House of Lords declined to join in the petition, and Lord Lyndhurst said—Their Lordships had no right whatever to refer to the Report of a Committee, or to its evidence, for the purpose of extending or varying the terms of that Report. He begged to assure their Lordships that that was no mere technical point, but that it, in effect, embodied a principle—the very principle upon which the Act of last Session was founded."—[3 Hansard, Cxxv. 1110.]In the same case Lord Redesdale said—and the remark came with great weight from a person of his great Parliamentary experience—The true and only mode by which to secure a borough against an unjust, and oppressive, and tyrannical decision of a majority in Parliament was to say that they would insist upon the Report of the Committee containing the precise words used in the Act of Parliament. … Parliament has of late years passed several stringent enactments in order to prevent Party decisions of matters of this description by Election Committees, and to secure impartial judgments. If the Committee appointed to inquire reported that bribery had 'extensively prevailed,' it would be known that they intended to subject the borough to an inquiry; but if the Report did not contain these words, the borough should be saved from such an inquiry being issued against it by the tyranny of the Party which commanded a majority in the other House of Parliament. By insisting upon this, not only would their Lordships' House give protection to those who required it, against the possible oppression of a majority of the other House, but they would save themselves from having perhaps very awkward and difficult questions sent up to them in times of great excitement and high political feeling."—[Ibid. 915.]These were considerations which every Party would do well not to forget. There was another case—that of the Dublin freemen—in which the proceeding was rather exceptional. The House of Commons sent up an Address for a Commission because the Judge reported extensive corruption among the freemen, though not in the whole constituency. In the course of the debate the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War (Mr. G. Hardy) said—It was most imperative that the House should confine itself to the Report of the Judge."—[3 Hansard, CXCV. 1278.]And the present Lord Chancellor said on the same occasion—What the statute has done is to interpose the Judge as the person who is to decide what is meant by the word 'extensively.' It is not that Parliament is to read the evidence, and form its own conclusion whether the bribery has been extensive or not; if that were so we might have those very painful discussions renewed in both Houses which politicians on all sides have long since endeavoured to sweep away from the action 292 of Parliament—we might have Members coming down arguing on the Report as to whether or not the corrupt practices alleged had been 'extensive.' You have had the Judge interposed to avoid the whole of that scandal."—[3 Hansard, cxcvi. 1396.]If this were a case of possible, or probable disfranchisement, he would not maintain—he had never maintained—that the House of Commons could not permit independent measures of its own. They might bring in a Bill, as they had done before, founded on the peculiar circumstances of the case, and proceed to regular action in this matter. But the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry had never attempted anything of the kind; he had never pretended this was a case of corruption which would warrant such a proceeding as that. Twelve men in a constituency of 6,000 were found to have received bribes, a large proportion of them being persons who had had their railway fare paid and there being a few shillings in excess of the fare. Nobody palliated such conduct, or denied that the men ought to be punished and the Member unseated for these acts; but there was no pretence that the disfranchisement of a constituency of 6,000 voters should follow from such a finding on the part of the Judge. The principle for which he had contended was that the rights of the constituency were a high franchise, and that they could not be taken away by Resolution of the House of Commons. The old rights of franchise stood on prescription; those of new boroughs like Stroud stood on Act of Parliament, and rights which were not conferred by Resolution of the House of Commons could not, in his opinion, be taken away or indefinitely suspended by such a Resolution. His hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) had a low opinion of precedents; but this was a point on which the House had already shown its opinion. The Prime Minister said the other day that these precedents were principles embalmed. It was quite plain that if this thing were done it would be done contrary to all precedents. The House of Commons had never done such a thing before. There was a special provision to ask the consent of the whole Legislature in dealing with a case of this kind. If that policy was wrong it could be reversed in a proper and constitutional manner either by repealing the reference of these questions to Judges 293 or by special legislative action, if special legislative action were called for. The hon. and learned Member for Londonderry, however, did not consider the present case as one which would justify him in moving for a Committee of Inquiry, or in proposing a Bill to disfranchise the constituency of Stroud. All the hon. and learned Member asked was that the evidence should be before the House—a step that would be utterly useless, because when the House got the evidence it could do nothing in the matter. For those reasons, he should vote against the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry.
§ MR. SPENCER WALPOLE
said, it had been stated that the House had parted with the power of deciding whether a writ should issue or not; but, in his judgment, the House had parted with no power unless it could be shown that the power vested in this House since it was first summoned to sit, and always without exception exercised by it, had been taken away from it by some specific Act of Parliament. From this point of view, therefore, the question would turn mainly upon the terms of the Act of Parliament commonly called the Parliamentary Elections Act. The hon. and learned Member (Sir William Harcourt) had said more than once that those who supported this Amendment were going to sit in judgment upon the decision of the Judge; that the decision of the Judge upon the point before the House was conclusive; and that Parliament had given to the Judge the power of determining conclusively all questions arising out of the disputed election. He, on the contrary, should be able to show that Parliament had distinctly reserved to the House of Commons the power of further considering some of those questions. This was how the case stood. The Act, by the 11th section, and the 18th sub-section, had made the decision of the Judge final and conclusive in two points, and in two only. It had made the decision of the Judge final and conclusive as to the return and as to the voidance of the election. But if the next sub-section of the clause were referred to, it would be seen that the Judge was to report upon matters which had been brought to his notice—such as where there was corruption; whether it had been practised with the knowledge of the sitting Member; the names of the 294 persons bribed; and whether corrupt practices had extensively prevailed. But in not one of these respects was the decision of the Judge to be conclusive, nor ought it to be conclusive, for if it were so, then—when they had the evidence be-fore them that people were kept out of the way, and that trick upon trick had been played to prevent the Judge from going into an inquiry which he had no means of prosecuting, and that his decision was made under circumstances which could not be conclusive. The House of Commons would be forced to say—"Whatever may have been the amount of corruption practised, we have no longer the power to consider and determine whether some further proceedings are not absolutely necessary to ensure the freedom and purity of elections." That was not all. The hon. and learned Member for Staffordshire (Mr. Staveley Hill) had said that the clause in the Act of Parliament distinctly laid down what powers the House of Commons was still to possess and what had been taken away by inference. That clause, however, did not bear the construction which the hon. and learned Member had put upon it, and had he looked at the next clause he would have seen what powers had been reserved to the House. The clause to which the hon. and learned Member had referred was this—Where the House of Commons, on being informed by the Speaker of such certificate and Report, or Reports and judgment, shall order the same to be entered in the Journals, and shall give the necessary directions for confirming or altering the returns, or for issuing a writ for a new election, or for carrying the determination into execution, as circumstances may require.The final determination, therefore, of the whole question was reserved to that House for confirming or altering the Return, or for issuing or not issuing the writ, as circumstances might require. All doubt upon the subject, however, was removed by the next clause, which pointed out where the House had made a special Report. The House should make such order in respect of such special Report as they should think proper. The House was to pay the utmost respect to the Judge's certificate—indeed, they were bound by it; but with regard to the Report they were invited to consider the state of facts submitted to them, and what proceedings they would take with regard to them. If, after that, they 295 were to be told that they were to be bound by the decision of the Judge and were to be controlled by precedent—although he agreed that precedents were the embodiment of principle—yet he should answer that he was willing to follow precedents where they were exactly analagous to the case under consideration and provided they met with reasonable assent. But was that the case here? Was there any precedent which showed them that a borough had had its returns challenged four times in the space of a year and a quarter—that in each instance corruption had been reported—and that in one instance it had extensively prevailed? He had said on rising that this question was one of great importance as regarded the Privileges of the House—and that it was a useful privilege for the House to retain, and if necessary to exercise. He was as strong as the hon. and learned Member (Sir William Harcourt) for not allowing either that or the other House to exercise exclusive authority upon matters that should be determined by the whole Parliament. The House of Commons could not determine any questions which were not legitimately within its province; but when the power of determining questions which were legitimately within its province had not been taken from it by any statute, it had a right to exercise that power; and such a power was that of determining whether the writ should issue or not. Could hon. Members judge of the expediency of issuing the writ in the present instance until they had seen the evidence taken in the case? They were not asked to see the evidence for the purpose of challenging the Judge's decision, but for the purpose of considering whether any further action should be taken in the matter. If that evidence showed that extensive corruption had not prevailed in the borough, by all means let the writ go; but if the evidence was to the contrary effect, it was their duty to determine whether some further steps had not become necessary.
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
congratulated the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) that he had at last found out and had proclaimed to the House the little value which he attached to anonymous writing. A letter had appeared in The Times the other day signed "A Sheep without a 296 Shepherd," in which it was urged that the Liberal Party should not be allowed to select their own Leader, and suggested that their Leader should be chosen by Earl Granville and a few other select persons, and it was followed the next day by another, signed "V.", in which it was stated that the Liberal Party was not to be trusted. The hon. and learned Gentleman had now extended his distrust to the House of Commons, which, in his opinion, was not fit to be trusted with the power of issuing writs, but ought to be bound, hand and foot, by the decision of the Judge. Of course, hon. Members were aware that every lawyer that entered the House came there with the object of getting either on to the Woolsack or the Bench, and it was very natural, therefore, that they should think it right that the House should be subservient to the Bench; but he (Lord Robert Montagu) hoped the House would not surrender their discretionary powers. The House had the power of suspending the writ, for otherwise the question would not have been put. Disfranchisement, however, could not take place without the consent of the three Estates. The Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) was, that the writ shall not now be issued. The House could not suspend a writ beyond the dissolution of the House. Immediately after that Her Majesty could order a new writ to be issued. All that the House was asked to sanction was that the issue of the writ should be delayed until the lapse of three days after the evidence taken by the Judge on the inquiry was laid before them, so that they might be able to form their own opinion whether corruption had extensively prevailed in the borough. To talk of the House of Commons disfranchising the borough in question was mere nonsense and obfuscation of intellect. The right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) thought he had made out his point when he referred to the case of Stafford; but in that case the writ was delayed, and no more was asked for on the present occasion. The House was only asked not to act blindly in the matter, nor to adopt rashly the opinions of certain lawyers, who would make them east away their privileges.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
, remarking that there were a question of 297 law and a question of expediency mixed up in the case, proposed to say at the outset a word or two on the former, as it seemed to him there had been a slight misunderstanding. He did not think that the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) had contended, or had intended to contend, that the House of Commons had given up the privilege of appointing a Committee to investigate this matter. Certainly, he (the Solicitor General), for his part, had never contended, or intended to contend, anything of the sort. What he had said, and what he had adhered to, was, that it would be somewhat unconstitutional on the part of this House to suspend the writ simply for the purpose of inflicting a punishment on the constituency, and without having some ulterior object in view. That was all he had intended to say; and, speaking with deference, he did not believe the hon. and learned Member for Oxford had intended to say any more. Now, with regard to the power of the House of Commons, it was to his mind pretty clear that the House might, if it thought fit, appoint a Committee to investigate an alleged pre-valence of corrupt practices in connection with an election at Stroud, or at any other place. The Act of 1852, under which a Commission might be issued for the purpose of ascertaining whether sufficient reasons existed for the disfranchisement of a constituency, was very plain and specific in its terms. By the first section it was provided that a Commission might be issued upon an Address of both Houses of Parliament, this Address to be founded upon a Report of a Committee appointed to try an Election Petition or to ascertain whether corrupt practices had extensively prevailed or not. Now, the Act of 1868 only placed the Election Judge in the position of the Committee, or, so to speak, in the shoes of the Committee of the House of Commons which formerly tried Election Petitions, and it gave to his Report the same effect as had formerly been given to the Report of that Committee. There was nothing in that Act, or in any subsequent Act, so far as he knew, to deprive the House of Commons of the power, if they thought fit to exercise it, of appointing a Committee of its own to ascertain whether or not corruption had extensively prevailed. So much for the law. He believed he had stated it 298 pretty much as the hon. and learned Member for Oxford had done, and that he had stated it correctly. The question of expediency was quite another matter. On seeing the Notice of the present Amendment on the Paper, he thought it might possibly be of a different character from the Motion brought forward by the same hon. and learned Member the other evening; but when he had examined it attentively, he found it was in truth just their old friend in a new dress, and, for his part, he did not think the new garb was at all an improvement. What was the ulterior object of the hon. and learned Member? Was it that a Committee should be appointed, or that a Bill to disfranchise should be introduced? If he had either of these courses in view, why did he not state it? It was for the House to consider whether any advantage would be gained by suspending the writ till the evidence given before the learned Judge who tried the Election Petition at Stroud had been laid before them. In connection with this question, it was worthy of remark that the hon. and learned Member who had moved the Amendment had not made any application or Motion that the evidence should be printed, nor had anybody else. There would, therefore, be this curious result—that the writ would be suspended till evidence was printed which no one asked to have printed. But supposing it were printed, and the House of Commons had an opportunity of examining it, they could only discuss the evidence which had been offered to the learned Judge, which he had heard from the mouths of witnesses themselves, and when he had the opportunity of judging of their demeanour. The House, therefore, would only be able to consider at second hand what the Judge considered at first. Well, was there a case for the appointment of a Committee of this House to investigate the alleged prevalence of corrupt practices at Stroud? It appeared there had been four petitions and three Reports. The first two Re-ports, although there had been some reason why the Judges could not form a full and definite opinion, certainly contained no statement that corrupt practices had been extensively prevalent. Then, coming to the last Report, which seemed to him to be the one from which the House ought to judge of the conduct of Stroud, it was found that the learned 299 Judge—a very eminent Judge, who had gone into the whole case with remarkable patience—came to the conclusion that corrupt practices had not extensively prevailed. If this House, on an investigation of the matter, came to a conclusion opposed to that of the learned Judge, there certainly would be a state of things presented of a very extraordinary character, and such as had never been contemplated in the legislation bearing on this subject. It might be that Stroud had now repented and become virtuous, and if so there was no reason for suspending the writ, and depriving it of one of its representatives in Parliament. He should vote against the Amendment, for he regarded it as the same in effect as the Motion of the other evening, and did not find it was the intention of the hon. and learned Member to take any ulterior proceedings.
§ MR. STANTON
, as one of the Members for Stroud, wished to say a few words on this question. He deeply regretted that it had lost so able and valuable a representative as Mr. H. Brand. He admitted that the Reports of the Judges had shown that many things had been done in that borough which had better been left undone; but still the House must remember that in two eases out of three the Judge had reported that corrupt practices had not extensively prevailed. The last trial was not stopped, as had been stated, by the Member surrendering his seat. It was heard out to an unprecedented length, so much so that the Judge described a great deal of the evidence as merely fishing for information. He believed that hon. Members would rather take the opinion of the Judge than care to investigate the evidence themselves. The fact of his standing in that House after having had his return called in question unsuccessfully a second time proved that his was a pure election. No doubt, Stroud had to a certain extent become demoralized, from having been kept so long in such a state of political excitement, and he thought few boroughs whore sharply contested elections had been fought would have fared better under similar circumstances. He, therefore, could not allow that it was a corrupt borough. The proceedings which had been instituted had been vexatious and uncalled for, and the result had been principally to 300 enable the prime mover in them to acquire the proud distinction—if such it was—of having caused greater injury to the town, more annoyance and ill-feeling amongst neighbours, and a greater waste of money than any other person in the neighbourhood. He hoped the House would not allow any further delay to take place in the issue of the writ, which would only add fuel to the already inflammable and excited state of feeling in the borough; and he trusted that it would be long before the borough was again brought so conspicuously before the notice of the House.
§ MR. RUSSELL GURNEY
so fully agreed in what had been said by the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Spencer Walpole), that he would offer but a very few words on that matter. But there were one or two points which he wished to urge on the attention of the House. The hon. and learned Solicitor General asked whether the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) had announced that he intended to propose any ulterior measure in regard to the borough of Stroud. Permit him to say that brought this case exactly within the precedent more than once quoted in that debate—namely, that of Wakefield. That was exactly the question put at that time to the late Sir George Lewis, who was asked—"Do you propose to do anything with reference to the borough of Wakefield?" and he distinctly said he did not; but that he would propose a general Bill, which would have no retrospective operation, and which would not apply to Wakefield and Gloucester; that no doubt it would be in the power of any hon. Member to propose a clause on that subject, but that he did not intend to propose such a clause. Not a single other Member ventured to say he meant to do so. Therefore, that ease did form a precedent for the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry; for the issue of the writ was put off from the end of one Session till the beginning of the next. Thus they had a precedent for the right, and there could be little doubt as to the expediency, in some instances, of having some delay in the issue of the writ. The hon. Member who spoke last called upon them to abide by the decision of the Judge, and no one could be more willing than he was to do so as to the points 301 which the Judge had to decide. The hon. Gentleman said they were not justified in saying that further evidence which might have been given was withheld in consequence of the withdrawal of the claim to the seat; but the Judge himself distinctly reported that that was so, and if they were to abide by the decision of the Judge, they must abide by it on that as on other points. The high ground which had been taken the other night had been abandoned. There was no longer any doubt that the House had the right, in certain cases, to withhold the issue of the writ. But it was said they were confined to the single ground that further measures were contemplated. No doubt that would be the ordinary ground on which they would delay the issue of the writ; but they were not tied down to that single ground. There might be other grounds on which it would be undesirable to issue the writ; and, if they thought it was undesirable to issue it, they had an absolute power to delay issuing it. Much had been said as to the fear that if they refused to issue the writ, they would be throwing discredit on the tribunal which they had themselves created. He should be the last person who would wish to do that. With the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), who spoke the other night on that subject, he took an active part in the Committee from which came the recommendation on which the Bill was subsequently founded. That Committee recommended that the trial of Election Petitions should be removed from the House of Commons and conducted by one of the Judges. He fully acquiesced in that proposal, and was anxious for it to be carried, and he believed it had worked thoroughly well. Having watched very carefully the different cases that had been tried before the Judges, he was perfectly satisfied with the working of that Act. He certainly, therefore, should not take any part in throwing discredit on that tribunal. But were they really asked to throw any discredit on it? There were certain things for the Judge to decide, and on which his decision was absolute, and there was nothing in the Judge's decision in that case that he contradicted. The Judge was bound to report as he did about the prevalence of bribery, as according to the way in which he reported on that would depend the issue of 302 a Commission upon an Address to the Crown from both Houses. He admitted that by the Judge's decision on that point, they were precluded from having a Commission; and nobody proposed that there should be one. But then, were there not grounds for waiting until they had an opportunity of seeing the evidence? The Judge reported that in October, Joseph Workman, with his wife, was induced to emigrate by two persons on the list of bribers who were interested in sending him away; and it appeared that some of those things had been done with the knowledge of one, at least, of the respondent's agents. Those were matters which the Judge had thought fit to report for the information of the House. Again, the previous history of the borough ought to be taken into consideration. The Judge was not authorized to inquire into previous elections, but their history was known to the House; and they knew, as a fact, that there had been no fewer than four Petitions in the course of seven months, and that in all those cases there had been more or less bribery. Then, taking all these circumstances into account, he was most anxious that it should not be held hereafter that they were precluded, either by former precedent or by statute, from entering into a consideration of these matters; and, being at liberty, as they were, to take them into consideration, it was not an unreasonable request to ask that they should delay issuing the writ until they had had an opportunity, at any rate, of looking at the evidence in the case, as well as at the proceedings adopted in other cases, in order to see what ought to be done. On those grounds he should support the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 184; Noes 73: Majority 111.
Main Question put, and agreed to.
Ordered, That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a New Writ for the Election of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough of Stroud, in the room of Henry Robert Brand, esquire, whose Election has been determined to he void.